Game Thinking OG: my tribute to Richard Garriott

This is #2 in a series of excerpts from the #1 Amazon best seller, Game Thinking

One of the formative experiences of my design career was working on Ultima Online with Richard Garriott, Raph Koster, and Starr Long (shown here). Read my tribute to Raph Koster here

When I first started on the project, I wasn’t familiar with the Ultima games — I was a hired to help tune & tweak the core social systems. We faced a mountain of challenges from our varied and brilliant players— griefing, hacking, spoofing , in-fighting — all the usual suspects in online gaming.

We were also dealing with the emergent properties and unexpected consequences of powerful, inter-dependent incentive systems. I was writing a book at the time, and this new, innovative online game provided a fascinating laboratory of social experiments gone awry.

During the 2 years I was on this project, I got to know Richard Garriott as an extraordinary creative talent — and a great guy to bounce around ideas with . I was working with both Ultima Online and eBay during the early days of both systems — and closely tracking how these two complex multiplayer environments handled many of the same issues.

I was also writing my first book — and Richard become my partner in system design thinking. We had weekly calls, discussing what was happening in Ultima Online, how the systems were working— and then we’d move on to talking more generally about social dynamics in online communities and how Richard’s experiences running D&D games around his parents dining-room table drove his desire to turn his single-player, ground-breaking Ultima games into a multiplayer experience.

I ended up writing a cover story on Ultima Online for WIRED, and Richard became a treasured colleague and friend. And now — full circle — Richard’s wisdom appears in my new book, Game Thinking. Check it out.

Any online community includes all four Bartle’s player types. So, in Ultima Online, we included features that allowed you to steal, pick pockets, and attack other players.

To balance the game, we made a rule that you couldn’t attack other players in towns, but you could attack in the woods. We intended that if you were a blacksmith in town you might need to hire miners to go to the caves out of town and bring back iron ore, creating an economic loop between two different types of players.

But people found ways to game the system to take advantage of other players. An expert player would say “I see you’re a beginner. Come with me into the woods and I’ll show you how to hunt.” Once out of town, they would attack the beginner and steal their belongings. Our challenge became: How do we make the world exciting for hunters, without destroying the fun for beginners?

There are a few creative people — J.R.R. Tolkein, George Lucas, George R.R. Martin —who have the imaginative power to bring compelling new worlds to life — worlds that millions of people want to live inside of.

Richard Garriott is one of those people. Working with Richard taught me so much about the power of world-building and systems balancing. I’m proud to highlight his wisdom and influence in my new book, Game Thinking.

We’re running a limited-time special — right now the Game Thinking ebook is on sale for just$1.99.

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Game designer, startup coach, author, entrepreneur gamethinking.io